Urbin Report

Monday, July 07, 2008

PDAs, Smart phones and the ubiquitous Internet

I started out as a Day Planner user. I went digital with my first PDA, a HP 200LX palm top. I switched to Palm OS devices when I started working at 3Com. That was just after 3Com purchased Palm's parent company and all the geeks there had one.

For a straight PDA, you can't beat a Palm OS device, IMNSHO, of course. The interface is clean, easy to use, and has a large pool of third party apps to support it. I never liked all the overhead of the various revs of the Windows CE OS. I don't want to send time figuring out out how to use my PDA, I just want to use it.

I'm currently using a Palm LifeDrive, which is a spectacular PDA. It has a big crisp screen, WiFi, Bluetooth, SD support, a three Gig microdrive and it can handle MS Office files. I also have a folding keyboard that uses the IR interface. A good road warrior feature, since it makes it usable on a plane. The keyboard is larger than an Acer EEE PC sports, so I can do some serious writing on it if need be. On the downside, Palm has discontinued the LifeDrive and is focusing on their Smart Phone line instead of dedicated PDA devices.

One of the best features of Palm OS devices is the PC interface. The Palm desktop app is much, much better than Outlook for contact management (again, IMNSHO), Calendar management, Task Management, and...well you get the idea. It it also very easy to load files onto the LifeDrive (including word docs, PDF files, and photos). I added another Gig of storage to it by adding a one Gig SD card. Given that the prices for larger SD cards is dropping, that is an easy way to add storage.

The Palm LifeDrive is also an excellent ebook platform. The screen is easy to read and the 3 Gig internal drive holds a lot of books. I currently have about 40 loaded. I use the Mobipocket reader most of the time. The Mobipocket format is what Amazon uses on the Kindle, with their encryption. If you have an Amazon Kindle, it reads unencrypted Mobipocket formated files just fine.

A few months ago I broke down and bought an Apple iPhone. I wanted the ubiquitous Internet access, and I liked the big screen and sharp graphics. As a web browser and light email client, it really performs well. As a phone, not so well. For a straight up phone, I prefer the Motorola Razr it replaced. The one key feature I really miss. Voice dialing. In particular, voice dialing from a Bluetooth headset.

Another thing the iPhone is not, is a PDA. No categories for the contact list, no desktop support for the notes feature, no external keyboard support (not even an Apple Bluetooth keyboard), and no external memory support (the SD slot on the LifeDrive for example).

Yes, there will be the new Palm OS and third party app support in late July 08, but even the new hardware lacks one one key feature, external memory support. It seems Apple is dead set against putting a SD slot in their phone. I can see why. A quick search on Amazon shows an eight Gig SD memory card selling for $25. That is a bit less than the $100 difference between an 8 Gig and a 16Gig iPhone. It also allows a way to move data, and perhaps applications, on and off the phone that isn't controlled by Apple.

Which brings us to the G-Phone, which is any phone running Google's Android OS. Those won't be available until Q408, and won't be as slick as an Apple iPhone. It will, however, not be a locked down platform like the Apple phone. My prediction is by Q409, with a year of an active and enthusiastic developer base, the competition between the Google G-Phone and the Apple iPhone will be much more pronounced.

Also posted to Urbin Technology